Fr. Thomas with two children and a donkey.
How it all started...

Fr. Rick comes to El Paso

Our Lady’s Youth Center was founded in 1953 by Fr. Harold Rahm, S.J. to serve the needs of a poor section of downtown El Paso known as Segundo Barrio.

Father Richard (Rick) Thomas, a Jesuit priest originally from Florida, came to El Paso, Texas, in 1964 to take over running Our Lady’s Youth Center (OLYC) from Fr. Rahm.

The programs of OLYC at the time included an employment office, a credit union, sports teams for youth, English classes, and providing hot meals for hungry children of the neighborhood.

As executive director, Father Thomas continued and added to the many social services that Fr. Rahm had started, but he felt that he was not making much of an impact in the spiritual lives of those coming for help.

The Christmas 1972 food multiplication

Then around 1969, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, in what is called the charismatic renewal, began among some of the staff members and Father Rick. Gradually all of the staff experienced this renewal by the Holy Spirit and joined together in regular prayer meetings and Bible studies. 

Growing out of the Bible study was a now-famous 1972 Christmas excursion to share a meal with the people who lived and worked in the garbage dump in Juarez, Mexico. During that meal, the Lord multiplied the food the group had brought to share with 120 people, and 300+ people were all able to eat their fill. There was so much food leftover that the group took the extras to two orphanages on the way home to use it up. 

This multiplication of food really got the attention of those who witnessed it. From this miracle developed the garbage dump ministry which grew to include a business cooperative to sell bottles and cardboard, a school, a medical and dental clinic, and a daycare center.

Father Thomas with child at the garbage dump
One of the large houses at the Lord's Ranch

The Lord's Ranch gets started

Three years later in 1975, Father Thomas purchased 160 acres of land near Vado, New Mexico, about 30 miles from Our Lady’s Youth Center in El Paso. He called it the Lord’s Ranch. Originally intended to be a replacement for a summer camp that OLYC operated for inner city kids, the Ranch evolved into an active farm and dairy. 

Volunteers grew and harvested food for the poor on this semi-arid property, and also milked cows and goats, using the milk to make cheese. The fruit and vegetables grown were sent to the Lord’s Food Bank in Juarez, Mexico, as were the huge wheels of cheese produced. The cheese was given to pregnant women who were unable to get enough protein to nourish their developing babies. The healthy babies born to these women were affectionately known as “cheese babies.”

In the late 80’s and early 90’s, a disease in the soil killed all the fruit trees and vines that were planted on the Ranch. Many volunteers left around that time so the milking of the cows and goats had to be discontinued. The focus shifted to hosting out-of-town youth groups and providing a place of spiritual retreats. When the violence from the drug-wars in Juarez escalated in 2009, mission groups stopped coming to visit and the mission of the Lord’s Ranch adjusted again. The main ministry of the Ranch currently is its shortwave radio station, and it continues to be the home for full-time volunteers.

Ministries in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

The Lord’s Food Bank (El Banco de Comida de Dios) & Las Alitas

Located in the 16th of September colonia in west Juarez, the Lord’s Food Bank began in 1976. It started out in the yard of someone’s house but eventually moved to the mesa where it is now.

The Lord’s Food Bank serves the underprivileged of the area by providing groceries, home visits to the sick and elderly, a Montessori school, a medical and dental clinic, and other social outreaches.

Las Alitas

On the east side of Juarez, in Colonia Loma Blanca, we have another outreach base called Las Alitas. Here we work closely with the parish priest in the area to help provide catechism classes to prepare children for their First Communion and Confirmation. We also have Bible studies for the parents and marriage preparation classes. Groceries are distributed each week to those in need.

Our robust youth athletics program includes soccer, volleyball, and basketball providing a safe place for kids to recreate.

meal for the elderly at the Food Bank